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John Lee Evans

The challenge facing San Diego schools

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We all have tough choices to make about public education in San Diego. As a board member, my charge is to protect the quality of education while preserving the fiscal health of the school district. This is a difficult balancing act.

The superintendent has already said that potential midyear cuts would be impossible to implement. We cannot dismiss the first-grader’s teacher in January. We cannot tell high school seniors that we are canceling their courses in the middle of the year. The midyear problem can only be resolved at the state level.

At the district level, we have already made the tough choices over the last three years. We have significantly reduced busing, increased class size and cut support staff. We have reduced the school year and cut millions in contracts. We have laid off hundreds of employees. And the remaining ones have made concessions.

All of the metrics show that we are one of the leanest districts in the country, contrary to what you may hear in the media. Our sound fiscal management gained us the highest credit rating last summer. The recent downgrade was actually due to our own transparency in saying that these impossible midyear cuts would decimate our reserves and lead us down a dangerous road.

It is the state, however, that has not made the tough choices. We continue to operate on gimmicky state budgets. The Board of Education can only divide up the money we receive. But the state has the power to raise revenues. While ranking a dismal 46th in education funding, California has continued to cut K-12 education. In public education California has gone from the top to the bottom in one generation.

We will do whatever we need to do in San Diego to keep educating our children. This can only be accomplished through shared sacrifice. Shared sacrifice does not mean putting the entire burden of the budget crisis on our teachers and staff. Any proposals to do this are both unfair and unreasonable.

Parents, of course, are eager for the board to vote against every cut that is proposed by the superintendent. But we must leave no stone unturned as we look for budget solutions. We cannot back off these conversations because they are uncomfortable for board members and everyone else.

The potential cuts that we must examine include closing schools, selling property, reducing transportation, economizing in special education, making targeted reductions in certificated and classified positions, and investigating revenue-generating activities. We cannot survive without employee concessions, including extension of furlough days and postponement of raises. I am sure that we will work this out, but the problem is much larger than these concessions.

I joined the board in 2008 with the goal of having a world-class school system by the time our first-graders graduate in 2020. We have a plan for a quality school in every neighborhood by 2016. The Class of 2020 is now in the fourth grade. Are we going to keep up with what they need to succeed?